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Amanda Masters ’96 Fights for Fair Housing in NYC

August 4, 2011 | Alumni

As the perennial new kid, Amanda Masters ’96 grew up watching the way people treated strangers. As her family moved with her father’s career in the Air Force, she spent time thinking about the inequities she saw from one community to the next.

“I lived in a variety of places, some of them more diverse than others,” she said. “So I think I always recognized how important it is to have integrated and diverse environments where people are treated fairly.”

Of Counsel for the firm Giskan, Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart, Masters was recognized by the Fair Housing Justice Center of New York City for her work on behalf of discrimination victims. She received the 2010 “Outstanding Fair Housing Attorney” Acting for Justice Award after successfully representing a tenant whose landlord refused to accept a Section 8 voucher, which eventually expired.

“What he did was essentially deprive her of the rent the voucher would have paid for years to come,” Masters said. “It was an egregious case and good outcome for the client.”

Most nonprofit agencies in New York City focus on staving off evictions, developing affordable housing or tackling homelessness, Masters said. However, there is a great need for attorneys to represent those facing housing discrimination as well.

“It really happens every day,” she said. “Even though there’s a tremendous amount of diversity in New York City, there’s a lot of intentional discrimination when you get down to neighborhood by neighborhood – at the granular level – and most often it is not prosecuted or brought to the attention of the courts.”

Masters works with clients who have been refused decent, affordable apartments based on their status as a member of a protected class, ranging from race to sexual orientation to disability to their source of income, such as Social Security, Disability or Section 8 vouchers. In most cases that she litigates, landlords or real estate brokers have intentional discriminatory practices, but they figure the applicant is not in a position to hire a lawyer to fight it.

“Landlords are reluctant to get involved with somebody they perceive to be on some type of rental payment assistance,” she said. “This kind of discrimination subverts the whole purpose of these programs, and it’s irrational discrimination because the landlord would be receiving a steady check from the government every month.”

It was Masters’ observation of social segregation, combined with her “love to argue,” that led her to The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “Litigation seemed like a way to force people to change their behavior when they’ve been violating other people’s rights.”

When Masters was 16, her father, James, accepted a teaching position at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. The Masters family, including father James, mother Joan, and brother Jeremy (a 2005 Moritz alumnus), earned a combined eight degrees from the university.

“Yes, it was a pretty Ohio State-centric family there for a while,” Masters said with a laugh.

After finishing at Moritz, Masters moved to New York City. She has worked on cases in housing discrimination, employment discrimination, disability rights, and police use of excessive force since 1997.

“I think you do a better job for everyone if you’re passionate about what you’re doing,” she said, “That’s so much more important than the financial aspects of success – to really enjoy what you’re doing and to feel like what you’re doing is productive for people.”

This article was written by Monica DeMeglio.